lamberti-israel_web.jpgAfter nearly a year-long battle, thousands of dollars and a record voter turnout, incumbent Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti narrowly defeated Scott Israel.

When the ballots were first being counted, Israel, the Democratic candidate, led with a small margin of less than one percent. Lamberti, a Republican, later closed the gap.
As of press time, Lamberti led with 50.54 percent of the 679,526 ballots cast while Israel followed closely with 49.46 percent.

At a victory party at McDivots Restaurant in Margate, Lamberti said that during his campaign, he convinced Democrats to cross party lines and vote to keep him in his position, arguing convincingly that crime does not discriminate.

“I tried to tell people it’s not about politics,’’ he told the South Florida Times. It’s about professionalism and who’s more capable of taking care of their families. There’s nothing partisan about public safety and I think people have understood that and it resonated with them.”

Lamberti raised more money than Israel, but his party affiliation was a hurdle in a county with far more registered Democrats than Republicans.

The incumbent sheriff gained tremendous support from bi-partisan supporters and raised about $786,000 while his rival managed to raise $473,000, including a $60,000 loan.

The 541,618 registered Democrats in Broward County were Israel’s last hope.

Israel switched from the Republican to the Democratic Party last year and held the advantage over
Lamberti as Democrats to support Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Lamberti attributed his victory to his 31-year experience with BSO.

“I have the utmost respect for him and what he’s achieved in his career, but I don’t think it compares to my credentials,” said Lamberti.

Lamberti began his career as a BSO detention deputy in 1977. He quickly rose through the ranks and later served as chief of Deerfield Beach and interim chief in Hollywood and North Lauderdale.

Gov. Charlie Crist appointed Lamberti as interim sheriff in 2007 after then-sheriff Ken Jenne resigned after being convicted of mail fraud and tax evasion charges.

After Jenne's plunge, Lamberti took on the many challenges the agency faced such as scandals, budget cuts, ineffective community policing and several lawsuits. But, trying to fix those problems may have been cause for Lamberti to win the votes of many residents.

As sheriff, Lamberti oversees a budget of more than $700 million and a staff of more than 6,000 employees. The Broward Sheriff’s Office is a multi-faceted office with duties in fire and rescue, seaport and airport security, corrections—including detention and community patrol, as well as other areas such as family services.

During his campaign, Israel focused on the premise that he was more experienced and would manage the agency better than Lamberti.

After a 25-year tenure with the Fort Lauderdale Police Department, Israel recently resigned from the North Bay Village Police Department, where he served as police chief for the past five years.

During the final weeks of the heated contest, the two candidates bashed each other as their campaigns focused on a handful of issues that determined the outcome of the election.

Lamberti attacked Israel’s character with a TV ad pointing out 10 Internal Affairs investigations of
Israel by the Fort Lauderdale Police Department. The investigations stemmed from allegations of his excessive or unnecessary use of force and false arrest. Israel was cleared of any wrongdoing, but five of the Internal Affairs files are missing.

Israel fought back by hammering Lamberti’s transition team of eight white males. In a TV ad, Israel linked Lamberti to George Bush and highlighted the support Lamberti received from Roger Stone, a political activist who tried to stop the Miami-Dade 2000 presidential recount.

While lines at the polls were long on Tuesday as they were during early voting, and minor glitches were reported with some of the ballots and optical scanning machines, a record number of voters cast their ballots even though they had to wait for hours.

Lamberti ended his campaign on a positive note, saying that he hopes he has changed the way people view the office and that his future plans for the agency includes efforts to curb hate crimes.

“I’ve said from day one that the Broward Sheriff’s Office is not about one individual. It’s about 6300 men and women who come to work every day and they are very good at doing their jobs, and we’ll continue to do that,” Lamberti said.

Photo by Mychal McDonald. Sheriff Al Lamberti, left, and Scott Israel, right.